Abide #17: Doctrine and Covenants 124
On January 19, 1841 Joseph Smith voiced a revelation that declared Nauvoo as the new gathering place for the Saints. Much had happened since we left Joseph in section 123. After the expulsion from Missouri, 5,000 Saints scattered traveling east across Missouri to safety in Illinois, 200 miles east of Far West, Missouri 1838, with a population of 1,800. They took in 5,000 Mormon refugees. The citizens of Quincy did much to welcome the Saints officially resolving to “extend kindness” to the Saints, to speak out against those with prejudices against the Saints, help them find employment and housing, and their last resolution: “Resolved, That we recommend to all the citizens of Quincy, that in all their intercourse with the strangers, they use and observe a becoming decorum and delicacy, and be particularly careful not to indulge in any conversation or expressions calculated to wound their feelings, or in any way to reflect upon those, who by every law of humanity, are entitled to our sympathy and commiseration.”
This generous example stands through time.
Quincy was an important respite for the Saints, but they soon began to move about 50 miles to the north to another bend in the Mississippi to a place originally called Commerce. There they cleared trees, drained swampy land, built houses, planted crops and began to build a city. What we now know as section 124 became a sacred charter for that city Joseph Smith called Nauvoo. This revelation centered the Saints, enabled them to think of Nauvoo as a new home, and sharpened their focus as they worked to build up the city.
As the Joseph Smith Papers tell us: [this was] One of the few revelations from the Illinois period to be later canonized by the church, the 19 January revelation served as divine direction for the Saints for the duration of their time in Nauvoo. Mayor John C. Bennett read it at the general conference of the church in Nauvoo on 7 April 1841. The text was published in the 1 June issue of the church’s Nauvoo newspaper, Times and Seasons, as well as in the September 1841 issue of the Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, printed in Manchester, England. The Saints in Illinois referred to the revelation frequently in print and in public settings.
On January 19th, 1841, Joseph Smith voiced a revelation that declared Nauvoo as the new gathering place for the saints. Much had happened since we left Joseph in section 123. After the expulsion from Missouri, 5,000 saints scattered, traveling east across Missouri to find safety in Illinois. Quincy, Illinois, was 200 miles east of Far West, Missouri. In 1838 it had a population of 1,800 people. That city of 1,800 people took in 5,000 Mormon refugees. The citizens of Quincy did much to welcome the saints officially, resolving to extend kindness to the saints, to speak out against those with prejudices against the saints; they helped them to find employment, and housing. And their last official resolution– they resolved that, “We recommend to all the citizens of Quincy that in all their intercourse with the strangers they use and observe a becoming decorum and delicacy and be particularly careful not to indulge in any conversation or expressions calculated to wound their feelings or in any way to reflect upon those who by every law of humanity are entitled to our sympathy and commiseration.” This generous example stands through time.
Quincy was an important respite for the saints but they soon began to move 50 miles to the north, to another bend in the Mississippi to a place originally called Commerce. There they cleared trees, drained swampy land, built houses, planted crops, and began to build a city. What we now know as section 124 became a sacred charter for that city Joseph called Nauvoo. This revelation centered the saints, enabled them to think of Nauvoo as a new home and sharpened their focus as they worked to build up the city. As the Joseph Smith papers tell us, this was one of the few revelations from the Illinois period to be later canonized by the church. It served as divine direction for the saints for the duration of their time in Nauvoo. Mayor John C. Bennett read it at the General Conference of the church. In April, the text was published, in June in the Church’s Nauvoo newspaper, the Times and Seasons, as well as in September in the Millennial Star, printed in Manchester, and the saints in Illinois referred to the revelation frequently in print and in public settings. My name is Janiece Johnson. I’m a Willis Center research associate at the Maxwell Institute and I, along with Joseph Stuart, the Public Communications Specialist at the Institute will be discussing each week’s block of reading from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Come, Follow Me curriculum. We aren’t here to present a lesson but rather hit on a few key themes from the scripture block that we believe will help fulfill the Maxwell Institute’s mission to inspire and fortify Latter-day Saints in their testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and to engage the world of religious ideas.
Janiece Johnson: Hey Joey.
Joseph Stuart: Hey Janiece. How are you?
Janiece Johnson: Good.
Joseph Stuart: Glad to hear it. There’s a lot going on in the revelation, which we seem to say about every single week. But this is in fact the longest revelation canonized by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Doctrine and Covenants. And as I was preparing for this, I didn’t realize how much was in there and how many different themes the Lord covers in this revelation to Joseph Smith.
Janiece Johnson: Yeah, definitely. The Lord has stuff for the saints to do as they establish the stake of Zion. Right off the bat we start with, you need to write a proclamation. I think it’s interesting– they are speaking to government leaders, the honorable president elect, which is William Henry Harrison, specifically mentioned here. But then also, the Lord kind of acknowledges in verse seven, be bold. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. The leaders of the world are as grass. They eventually won’t be in power any more, but that doesn’t mean they don’t try to make that petition initially.
Joseph Stuart: Certainly. I think about what President Russel M. Nelson said about the Lord loves effort, in conjunction with this revelation; in thinking about the way that the Lord asks us to do things. Latter-day Saints sometimes have a difficult time explaining the relationship of faith and works to other Christians especially to Evangelical Protestant Christians but in short, we believe that the Lord will do everything but that we need to do our part to ensure that that takes place. And the Lord will give us the people that we need to accomplish what he asks us to. One of the people that the Lord gave to Joseph Smith to fulfill his prophetic calling and to help keep the saints safe was a man named John C. Bennett. We will talk a little bit more about his less savory future in a minute but, I just want to quote from verses sixteen and seventeen. “Let my servant, John C. Bennett help you in your labor in sending my word to the kings and people of the earth and stand by you, even you my servant Joseph in the hour of affliction and his reward shall not fail if he will receive counsel. And for his love he shall be great. For he shall be mine if he do this, saith the Lord. I’ve seen the work which he hath done, which I accept if he continue and will crown him with blessings in great glory.” Now it’s not usual for someone who appears in the Doctrine and Covenants to end up being one of the great villains of early mormon history. Could you tell us a little bit more about John C. Bennett?
Janiece Johnson: Oh, goodness. I think that Bennett, I think those “if”s in those two verses are essential when we think about Bennett. But also when we think about any of us. The Lord works in if/then propositions and the Lord does not guarantee that blessings are going to come. But often, it is if we follow through with our part. John C. Bennett had great blessings. He had all of– he was a skillful talker, he was a tomato advocate– I’m sure that’s primary in our concerns about John C. Bennett. But he had a lot of skills; he had a lot of abilities and a lot of potential. He did not use all of those abilities as he should.
Joseph Stuart: No. He started out by helping Joseph Smith– he helps to write the Nauvoo City Charter, which grants Joseph Smith and the Latter-day Saint leadership a lot of autonomy as they’re governing in the state of Illinois. This includes things like incorporating the Nauvoo legion and giving Joseph Smith the right to oversee legal proceedings. But things start to go astray.
Janiece Johnson: He had worked as a preacher, and as a doctor. He was the quartermaster general of Illinois, he becomes assistant president of the church but then, as these things go astray, we add adulterer and anti-mormon author and speaker onto this list.
Joseph Stuart: Yeah, we’ll talk a little bit more about this as we get into section 132, but John C. Bennettt learns about the doctrine of polygamy and uses it immediately to coerse women into sexual relationships with him. And I think this should go without saying, but I’m still going to say it, that’s not something that’s appropriate. John C. Bennett takes the tools that the Lord has given him, these gifts of speaking and of communicating and to be able to convince people to do things and he takes principles of the gospel and coerces people into doing things that he wants them to do, especially the women of Nauvoo. This is something that is not very savory to talk about. No one really loves talking about these things, but it’s something that Latter-day saints should pay attention to– that the gospel is a tool that can be used for great good, that the Lord gives us these things to do great things on the earth, but that we can also take the gifts that we are given and choose not to do the right things with the gifts that we’ve been given.
Janiece Johnson: Agency, how we use those gifts, is always going to be of primary import.
Joseph Stuart: And I think that’s one of the things that is weirdly reassuring to me is that I ultimately have control over what I am going to do with my gifts. I may be limited, as we’ll talk about in future sections, maybe limited in what I’m able to do. But in choosing to do what I’m able to, I am showing the Lord that I am ready to use the gifts that I’ve been given to build the kingdom.
Janiece Johnson: Yeah. And I think that there is a transition. So we talk about John C. Bennett and his gifts, but we also talk about others who the Lord talks about differently. But I want to go right now to verse 19 and it talks about David Patton. “Who was with me at this time, also my servant, Edward Partridge and also my aged servant Joseph Smith Sr. who sitteth with Abraham at his right hand and blessed and holy is he, for he is mine.” What’s going on here?
Joseph Stuart: So, to my mind, Joseph Smith, despite having seen the Lord, despite having seen the Father, despite having seen all of these resurrected beings, is still very concerned about: what happens after we die? What is life like? Are people taken care of? And David Patton, as discussed in previous episodes, dies at the Battle of Crooked River during the Missouri Civil War with the latter-day saints. Edward Partridge, the first bishop of the church, has also passed recently. Then, Joseph Smith senior had also passed. And in the past year and a half we have had to say goodbye to far too many people and without the customary ability to say goodbye to them. And so while reading this section this morning, I thought to myself, despite all the assurances that Joseph Smith has had that God exists, that salvation is possible through Jesus Christ’s Atonement, that he still doesn’t know a whole lot about what happens to people after they die and it seems that he’s still searching for answers.
Janiece Johnson: And it’s something that continues to weigh on his mind. In verse 22 we get one of those tasks that the Lord gives the saints, “build a house unto my name” but this is not the temple, surprise surprise. This is supposed to be a healthful and holy habitation, which will be called the Nauvoo House, “that the weary traveler may find health and safety while he shall contemplate the word of the Lord.” They are building a hotel! They are building a place where visitors– and they expect visitors will flock to Nauvoo and they want to take care of them there. Now they have really grandiose plans for the Nauvoo House, the hotel in Nauvoo, and if you go to Nauvoo today you can actually see the foundation of the house extends much further than the house they eventually built in that place but they have– and I think that we can begin to sense this kind of grandiose expectations that they have and these things they are going to build in this stake of zion.
Joseph Stuart: Yeah, Joseph Smith and the Lord that he worships never lack for chutzpah, for boldness, in what they were trying to do.
Janiece Johnson: Also, that doesn’t mean that everything that is associated with this is going to be a good call. One of Joseph’s calls at this time is to put the manuscript of– the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon– in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House.
Joseph Stuart: Spoiler alert: things put in foundations of houses don’t survive. This is why even with all of the resources in the Joseph Smith Papers Project, the cooperation of the Community of Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ historical departments, we have very few original manuscripts related to the first copy of the Book of Mormon.
Janiece Johnson: I think that we have about 28% of the original manuscript. Now, we’ve got a lot more of the printer’s manuscript, but this is one of the primary reasons. The other reason is that Emma’s second husband, Lewis Bidamon, also there is an apocryphal story that he also gave out pages of the original transcription of the Book of Mormon, the original translation– gave away pages as souvenirs to people who were visiting Nauvoo.
Joseph Stuart: Yeah, just stick with autographs next time, bud. But I think it’s important for us to think about “my house” being the place where Joseph and Emma Smith are going to live and extending it to thinking about the homes that we all live in. That we can create spaces that are sacred to each of us. Now of course there are people who grew up in homes that aren’t particularly safe or welcoming but in my mind that means that we need to work even harder to create spaces where people can feel loved, can feel the spirit, and have good experiences overall.
Janiece Johnson: And maybe you live by yourself. I am single. I live by myself well, me and my dog Luna. Shout out to Luna. But this idea at the end of verse 24, “It shall be holy or the Lord your God will not dwell therein.” We create holy places by what we do in those places and we have an opportunity to create a home that becomes holy.
Joseph Stuart: Now I can already hear some folks saying, “no, some places are holy in and of themselves.” To which I would say, then why do we dedicate temples? Why do we dedicate homes? Why do we dedicate chapels? It’s because we are asked to construct a place where we can commune with the sacred. That place could be somewhere that’s outside, it could be somewhere inside, essentially what it comes down to is, we are responsible for creating places where we can commune with the sacred in our own lives.
Janiece Johnson: Yeah. During the pandemic, the mountain that’s behind my house became a holy place to me. I needed that to get outside of the physical walls of my house which normally are very welcoming, but during the pandemic when it was harder I also needed this mountain and that certainly became holy to me. When we get to verse 25, the Lord gives them a new commandment and building the Nauvoo House and then “building another house to my name for the most high to dwell therein,” as it reads in verse 27, these are the two tasks for the saints in Nauvoo. This is what is going to occupy their focus. Joseph, we’ve talked about Richard Bushman saying before that Joseph is obsessed with temples. This will be the fifth temple that he has tried to build. It’s only the second that will actually be built. But temples are central to Joseph Smith. He will not live to see this temple completed but this is primary in their efforts when they get to Nauvoo. The Lord is centering them on building up the Nauvoo house and a new temple.
Joseph Stuart: Yeah and something else that Richard Bushman has said elsewhere is that the temple is the axis mundi for latter-day saints or sort of the orienting position from which we come from and so connecting those two things together, the home and the temple are where we are expected to place our priorities and the things that matter most.
Janiece Johnson: Now, when we get to verse 29, the Lord gives us one of the reasons. So 28 says, “For there is not a place found on the earth that he may come to and restore again that which was lost unto you or which he hath taken away, even the fullness of the priesthood.” Now I wonder if this is surprising to Joseph and to the other saints as they receive this revelation. But this idea that everything that they received in the Kirtland temple, what we call the Kirtland endowment today, was not everything, that there were more ordinances, and more rituals, more rites, more religious rites to be restored. The fullness of the priesthood, today we define the fulness of the priesthood as kind of everything under the sun that has ever been revealed but I think that it’s one of those terms that we want to look at how it’s defined where it’s used. The Book of Mormon says that it contains the fullness. Here, the fullness of the Gospel and then we get the fullness of the priesthood here. Another reason in verse 29 for a baptismal font there is not upon the earth. Another reason why you need another temple. “The day my saints may be baptised for those who are dead.” Now this surprises us, this comes out of the blue for us. But actually the previous August, Joseph had preached baptism for the dead– what was called a beautiful discourse. Joseph’s text was 1 Corinthians 15. He said, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ brought glad tidings of great joy and people could now act for their friends who had departed this life, that the plan of salvation was calculated to save all who were willing to obey the requirements of the law of God.” Now this was a miraculous thing. Seymour Brunson had died. A woman, Jane Nyman was the first to run down to be baptized for her son and this was witnessed on the hill. Who witnessed it on the hill?
Joseph Stuart: So we disagree over what the pronunciation of this name. I say Vienna Jakes, but I believe Jaques or Jacks is also acceptable. And I think that it’s remarkable, especially in the past few years as the church has opened up opportunities to witness at baptisms, that a woman was the first to witness for a baptism for the dead. And there’s a beautiful painting commemorating this in Tony Sweat’s book, Repicturing the Restoration, that I would encourage you all to check out.
Janiece Johnson: This– baptism for the dead is something that has some parallels in an ancient practice which is what is specifically mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15. I remember when I was sitting in divinity school and my Catholic formation professor started to talk about baptism for the dead and talking about how we have these baptismal fonts that were not used for the living. He was a former priest, a former Catholic priest and said if we knew what to do with this, we would do something with this. Jeffrey Trumbower, who is an expert in Ancient Christianity, wrote this book, Rescue for the Dead, and talks about the the post-human salvation of non-Christians in early Christianity. He calls this, he talks about this practice. The Maxwell Institute’s own Catherine Taylor is working on a chapter on the ancient practice of baptism for the dead, which we will see sometime next year when we – in the volume that’s coming out from the Maxwell Institute preparing us to look at the New Testament. Verse 29 says, “For a bapstimal font there is not upon the earth,” as the verses continue the Lord says, this is an ordinance that should be done in the temple but the Lord says, it’s okay right now to do it outside of the temple but only for a time.
Joseph Stuart: I think as it turns out the Lord is pretty understanding about our circumstances. He doesn’t force us to do things that we can’t do and so because the temple doesn’t exist he says, just use the Mississippi. It’s going to be okay, just keep working on the temple but we shouldn’t prevent people from obtaining the blessings of baptism for the dead, just because we haven’t built a temple yet.
Janiece Johnson: And I think that it’s interesting because the Lord also, in this instance, gives an expiration date and says, okay, you’ve got until October. You can continue to perform these baptisms for the dead in the river but the Lord doesn’t give the date at this point but Joseph gets a later revelation in October of 1841 that says, it’s no longer permissible. You need to finish the temple. And they would actually finish the font in the basement of the Nauvoo temple and build a little shack around it before the temple as a whole was completed so that they could continue to perform baptisms for the dead.
Joseph Stuart: Yeah, remember that the Nauvoo temple isn’t completed while Joseph is alive. This is something that happens right before the Exodus from Nauvoo to the west. Latter-day Saints are working night and day to finish the temple so that they can access other ordinances in addition to baptisms for the dead.
Janiece Johnson: And there is great excitement in performing these ordinances. Vilate Kimball writes to her husband, Heber C. Kimball in October of 1840 and she says, “Since this order has been preached here, the waters have been continually troubled.” During conference there were sometimes 8 to 10 elders in the river at a time baptising. Temperance Bond Mack, who’s actually Joseph’s aunt, writes to her daughter Harriet Mack Whittemore in September of 1841. She was baptised for her father, her mother, and her husband. And she says, “Thus releasing them from prison. I think how much you would have rejoiced to have done it yourself could you see the order instituted by heaven.” This is a joyous thing.
Joseph Stuart: Yeah, I wonder if Joseph and the early saints are also thinking about the promises in Malachai that the hearts of the children will be turned to the fathers and the fathers to the children. It’s just a really special idea to me and something that has a lot of value to me that I can connect with my ancestors as well as those who have died without a knowledge of the gospel. That through my action, through my own prayerful worshipful action which benefits me, they too are released from prison and are given the opportunity to extend. Again, Latter-day saints believe in grace so much that we believe that even after you are dead that you are not immune from its power even after you die. This proxy work for the dead allows us to return to live with God again.
Janiece Johnson: Very good. As the revelation continues we get more incentive for the saints to build the Kirtland temple. The Lord says, “The keys of the priesthood will be ordained there, ordinances revealed there, anointings and washings performed there, solemn assemblies held there, and there will be oracles there.” In verse 39 it says, “For your oracles in your most holy places where you receive conversations.” I recently went to the temple for the first time in more than a year and it was a really lovely moment and I have missed the temple. I have missed the opportunity to slow down and to not look at all the notifications on my phone. I have missed the direct line that I feel when I’m in the temple. I think this term oracles, we don’t specifically have an oracle that, one certain thing that we go to, but I think the temples, these houses of the Lord can become a conduit for us to reveal the word of the Lord to us in many ways. And it was a glorious thing to be able to go back to that place. It’s time for us to go back.
I was thinking about the words of Elizabeth Haven writes a letter from Nauvoo in 1839 and she says, “The understanding and knowledge we have of the scriptures makes friends and everything appear very different to me.” When she joined the church it changed her orientation. It changed her orientation of how she saw relationships, how she saw friends, and how she saw how she functioned in the world and how she read scripture. And as these revelations continue, we’ll see how Joseph is building on scripture from the Bible and revealing more truths to us.
Joseph Stuart: Yeah, I can only imagine what it must have been like to be Joseph Smith– to explain that there is always more coming.
Janiece Johnson: We think we’ve accomplished a lot and we think, ok, I’ve got it, I’ve figured it out. And the more that I learn, the more I recognize there is always so much more to learn. I think I become much more aware of the great chasm of things that I do not know.
Joseph Stuart: And that humility, I think, brings us to a good point in discussing verses 45 through 55 where the Lord explains that the saints are temporarily excused or forgiven for not building a temple in Jackson County, Missouri because of the actions of others. And why this sticks out to me is because shortly before the release of official declaration 1, or the Wilford Woodruff Manifesto, this is what George Q. Cannon leads with before presenting the Manifesto to the saints to be accepted by common consent at the General Conference of the Church in October 1890. He reads these verses and says, “Because of the actions of others we cannot continue here,” it gives a frame for understanding. It reveals how the Lord provides for us to– he does not expect us to accomplish things that are physically impossible for us to do at the time. He understands that sometimes the circumstances that we are in, we have no power over and that it’s important for us to recognize that we can go to the Lord and say, I need help, I can’t do this, please show us what we should do about this. And sometimes the answer is well, it’s okay for you to not be trying so hard at this specific thing for a while.
Janiece Johnson: I want us to end our discussion of section 124 with a couple verses more from the beginning of the section. But in verse 16 the Lord says, “Blessed is my servant Hyrum Smith for I the Lord love him because of the integrity of his heart and because he loveth that which is right before me saith the Lord.” In verse 20 the Lord says, “George Miller is without guile, he may be trusted because of the integrity of his heart and for the love which he has to my testimony. I the Lord love him.” Thinking about these two men and these descriptions of them that the Lord offers in contrast to what we know happens with John C. Bennettt, one who is given all the gifts and squanders them and uses them to create ill of others. But thinking about: what kind of person do we want to be? In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus expands the law to include motivations. Are our motivations earth bound or are we looking to heaven? Why do we do things? Sometimes it’s not apparent to everyone around us. We tick all the boxes; we fit what it looks like to be a good latter-day saint. But ultimately, that doesn’t matter. Is our heart there? Can the Lord love us because of the integrity of our heart? And I think the Lord wants us to think about it,– to be introspective. None of us do everything for the right reason all the time. We all go to a service project because we want donuts at some point. But sometimes we learn in the process and ultimately, this should be our concern. Where is our heart? Can the Lord love us because of the integrity of our heart?
Joseph Stuart: I can’t think of a better place to stop than that. We are going to leave you with the words of President Gordon B. Hinckley as he talks about the power of personal integrity and doing your best.
Gordon B Hinkley: “We cannot be less than honest. We cannot be less than true. We cannot be less than virtuous if we are to keep sacred the trust given us. Once it was said among our people that a man’s word was as good as his bond. Shall any of us be less reliable, less honest than our forebears? To those within the sound of my voice who are living this principle, I say the Lord bless you. Yours is the precious right to hold your heads in the sunlight of truth unashamed before any man. If there be need for reformation, let it begin where we now stand. God will help us if we will seek that strength which comes from him. Sweet then will be our peace of mind, blessed will be those with whom we live and associate.”
Thank you for listening to this episode of Abide: a Maxwell Institute podcast. Head on over to iTunes or your preferred podcast provider to subscribe, rate, and leave a review– each of which are worth their weight in podcast gold. You can receive show notes, including references to the sermons and articles referenced in this episode by signing up for the Maxwell Institute newsletter at mi.byu.edu. Please also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube for more content from the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. Thank you, and have a blessed week.
The views expressed here and in Maxwell Institute publications are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Maxwell Institute, Brigham Young University, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118)